Haslam issues executive order to help wildfire victims - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Haslam issues executive order to help wildfire victims

(Source: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) (Source: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Alice Hagler (Source: Alice Hagler Facebook) Alice Hagler (Source: Alice Hagler Facebook)

Eleven people are dead, 80 have been injured, and countless more have lost property in the wildfires that burned more than 17,000 acres in East Tennessee.

To help those victims, Governor Bill Haslam issued an executive order designed to make it easier for those victims to get access to important health care services.

Officials are worried the death toll may rise. They are still going door-to-door, checking on each home.

Area leaders updated the public Thursday afternoon on the recovery and fire containment efforts happening in Gatlinburg and Sevier County. 

Mobile users, click here to see photos of the damage in Sevier County

Certified fire investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have joined in the investigation to determine the source of the fires.

County and city officials said they are working to complete search operations to find any missing people or bodies.

While the City of Gatlinburg is closed to the public Thursday, the eastern part of the city is open. Additionally, city leaders said they hope to have major roadways open by Monday. Their goal is to allow property owners to access their properties in a controlled manner next week.

County officials hope to have all areas of the county open by the weekend, with the exception of Wiley, Oakley, and North Chalet because of significant damage in those areas.

Missing People:

Investigators said they've followed up on hundreds of tips about missing people. 

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said crews have made progress in finding "a significant number" of people who had previously been reported missing from the fire.

East Tennessee leaders said residents should not get a false sense of security just because they are beginning to allow people back into certain areas that were damaged. They said the area is still dangerous and should be treated with great caution.

A city official said animal control officers are going with other officers to check on houses where pets may be. People who are concerned about their animals should go on the Sevier County Humane Society site with specific addresses and information.

It is unclear at this time how many people are missing, but Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they are following up on 70 leads. That does not mean that there are 70 missing people.

"We're never going to give up hope," Miller said. "I will always hang on to hope if there's a chance of rescue, but now we are at hour 65 from the beginning of the fires. We have to come to the realization that this is going to be the majority of a recovery, but we have to hold out hope for a rescue, and these things have happened before."

Family members identify victims:

Memphis couple, Jon and Janet Summers, died in the wildfires. One of their family members confirmed that their bodies had been identified among the victims.

The Summers were vacationing in Gatlinburg with their three sons. The brothers are all in the hospital with injuries.

Alice Hagler, 70, is another one of the 10 people killed in the fires.

Family members last heard from Hagler on Monday when she was on the phone with one of her sons. The phone then disconnected. He said his mother told him the house was on fire, and he told her to get out.

Hagler was listed as missing after the fires.

Surveying the damage:

City and county officials said they are creating a map where damaged and destroyed properties will be labeled. They estimate 700 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed in Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas.

One of the homes destroyed belonged to former Memphian Carol Musik. Her $4 million mansion did not make it through the fire.

"Words can't describe, just can't describe," Cindy Stinnett said after seeing the aftermath at her sister's home. "My lifetime was spent down here with them, all this can be rebuilt, but the memories, you'll never forget them."

New memories will be made, because this family still has each other.

"Clean up and rebuild. What else can you do? Just move forward and thank god we're all alive," Stinnett said.

The mayor of Gatlinburg agrees. He said his people are resilient, and the city will rebuild.

"Gatlinburg is the people. It's not the buildings. It's not the stuff in the buildings. It's the people, and it's the strongest community I've ever seen."

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